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Schools: different tests, different results

Staff Writer

Last week the Colorado Department of Education released the results for the 2013 Transitional Colorado Assessment Program (TCAP), which measures student ability and growth in reading, writing, math and science, and in general the results show student scores from Archuleta School District are down significantly when compared to the previous year.

“We are going to do an in-depth report to the board at their October board meeting,” interim superintendent Linda Reed assured, “because if you take disparate pieces of data, as some people do, you can paint a picture that is not accurate. What we want to do, because we have a lot of survey data — since we are part of the Gates integration grant, we have been able to participate in student perception surveys and teacher perception surveys, and then we also (through another grant we had) did a parent perception survey — we have a lot of data we want to present to the board, because it’s not just TCAP or ACT, or this or that. It’s really the big picture of data.”

This year’s TCAP scores show a total of 834 students in every grade between third and 10th took the reading portion of the test last year, and out of those 503 were classified as proficient while 39 were advanced. In other words, 64.99 percent passed the test. In 2012, 70.2 percent were proficient or advanced, which means the current figures reflect a decline of 5.21 percent.

For the writing portion of the test, out of 835 students, 336 were proficient and 51 were advanced, meaning 46.35 percent passed. The previous year it was 51.34 percent; a fall of 4.99 percent this year.

A total of 835 students took the math portion of the test, and out of those 293 were considered proficient and 130 were advanced. This year, 50.66 percent passed the test. In 2012, 54.43 percent were proficient or advanced, meaning a drop of 3.77 percent this year.

For the science portion of the test, only students in the fifth, eighth and 10th grades were tested. Out of 307 students, 124 were proficient and 29 were advanced, meaning 49.84 percent passed. Last year it was 57.96 percent, reflecting a fall of 8.12 percent this year. Science was the worst subject area of them all, both in terms of the overall score and the amount the results declined over the year.

“One thing I will tell you about the TCAP data,” Reed explained, “the ‘T’ stands for ‘transitional.’ We had the CSAP (Colorado Student Assessment Program), and that test was tied to the old standards (the Colorado Model Content Standards). The new standards came on line officially in 2010. We have been teaching the new standards — the Colorado Academic Standards — since 2010.

“The test, each year, has added twenty-five percent more questions that are tied to the new standards, so half of the questions on this test are not even tied to the standards we are teaching. It’s not that we devalue TCAP, because there certainly are some good indicators in there and we look at it from an individual student perspective or a teacher perspective, but it is a transitional test.”

However, according to Reed’s argument, more and more students should be receiving proficient or advanced scores as the test continues to reflect more and more of the new content that teachers are supposed to be using. In reality, fewer students are passing the test.

Another method for evaluating the data is to talk about growth — how many individual students are improving from year to year, and at what rate?

According to the CDE report, district growth rates are determined by combining growth percentiles from individual students. Growth rates for individual students are calculated by comparing their CSAP and TCAP scores in reading, writing and mathematics over consecutive years. These individual growth scores are combined into a single number — the district’s median growth percentile.

Higher median growth percentiles indicate higher growth rates for students in those districts, regardless of the district’s achievement. For example, a low-achieving district can show high growth rates or a high-achieving district can show low growth rates.

The growth model determines the percentage of students in each district growing at a sufficient rate to catch up, keep up or move up through achievement. The CDE report presented a summary of all growth results for three consecutive years, making it easy to see if there is a trend in the data, and how this trend might be changing.

For the students in Archuleta County, growth rates have declined from 2011 to 2013 in reading and math, and have improved only slightly in writing, while still remaining below the state median.

For reading, the district had a median growth percentile of 52 in 2011, but by 2013 it had dropped below the state average to 46. This includes all students between fourth and 10th grades. Third grade is when students first take the test, so it isn’t until fourth grade that growth can be measured, since the calculation requires at least two points of comparison.

For math, the district had a median growth percentile of 56 in 2011, but by 2013 it had dropped below the state average to 49.

On the other hand, for the writing portion of the test, the district had a median growth percentile of 46 in 2011, but by 2013 it had risen to 47. While this is a movement in the right direction, it still shows that local students are not growing at the state average in this subject as well.

The CDE offers two definitions of growth. Previously non-proficient students who made enough growth to become proficient or advanced within the next three years, or by 10th grade, are said to have demonstrated “Catch-up Growth.” Previously proficient or advanced students who made enough growth to remain in the proficient category in each of the next three years or by 10th grade are said to have demonstrated “Keep-up Growth.”

In 2011, 35.9 percent of the students who didn’t pass the reading test were at least growing at a catch-up rate, while 81.3 percent of the students who did pass also demonstrated enough growth to keep up. However, in 2013, each of those rates had dropped to 29.3 percent and 76.3 percent, respectively.

As far as the writing test is concerned, in 2011, 25.7 percent of the students who didn’t pass were at least growing at a catch-up rate and 67.3 percent of the students who did pass also demonstrated enough growth to keep up. However, in 2013 the catch-up rate dropped to 23.8 percent while the keep-up rose slightly to 67.5 percent.

The picture was the worst for math. In 2011, 15.5 percent of the students who didn’t pass the math portion of the test were at least growing at a catch-up rate, while 59.3 percent of the students who did pass also demonstrated enough growth to keep up. However, in 2013 both of those rates had dropped to 14.5 percent and 57.8 percent, respectively.

While Reed hadn’t had time by Tuesday’s interview to look closely at the TCAP results or the district’s performance frameworks, which also came out on Aug. 14, she had managed to glance at the ACT results.

“Overall, we are up in everything,” Reed reported. “Our special area of focus has been mathematics for the last four years, especially at the high school level, and this is the first year that we have exceeded the average state score.” The average ACT math score for the state was 20.1 and the average for district students was 20.4.

Reed considers the ACT test to be something similar to a final exam. Students in third through 10th grade take the TCAP, but it is in 11th grade that all Colorado students take the ACT.

“Another piece of data that I am going to share with the board in October,” Reed continued, “which I found amazing, is ACT gives five-year trends on different pieces of data, and one is for students who are part of ‘Core or More,’ which means that they are taking those courses they would need in order to continue on to a university — four or more years of English and three or more years of math, social studies and natural sciences. So those are our college-track kids, whereas ‘less than core’ are kids doing a vocational program or are going to go to work or the military after they get out of school.

“In 2008, only 22.8 percent of our students were in ‘Core or More’ as it is interpreted by ACT. This year we had 44 percent, so that is a huge jump in the number of kids we are preparing for college. That is a key piece of data that has not been highlighted. I am very proud of what our high school folks are doing to get kids on the college track.”

While more local students are trying to take high school classes designed to prepare them for college, TCAP scores seem to cast a shadow on the effectiveness of those classes.

In May, the SUN published an article on the Colorado Department of Higher Education’s 2012 Remedial Education Report, which indicated that 40 percent of the Colorado high school students who graduated in 2011 were assessed as needing remediation or enrolled in remedial classes in at least one subject once they got to college.

At that time, Reed admitted that the remediation rate for local students who go on to college is worse than the state average.

These are some of the challenges Reed will need to overcome as she takes over the reins of the school district from departing superintendent Mark DeVoti.

ed.fincher@pagosasun.com

This story was posted on August 22, 2013.
  • Anon

    This is all because of the “no child left behind”…kids who are advanced in school need to be challenged to their ability not dumbed down to the kids that need help. They need smaller class rooms and better teachers.

  • Snowman

    In Vegas they have allocated $50 million for English Language Learners programs. “Zoom Schools” ?????????